The first woman to qualify for the 2012 USA women’s triathlon team only 18 months after her first competitive triathlon, Gwen Jorgensen proudly represented her country at the 2012 London Olympics. Jorgensen’s Olympic experience had its ups and downs - but it’s her reaction to the circumstances that shows her nature as a true competitor. Gwen was gracious enough to share her thoughts with us on the Olympics - read on for some serious motivation.
My Olympic experience got off to a very special start. At the airport, I ran into a friend from Minnesota, Kris, who is into triathlons and was also flying to London. He was shocked that I wasn't flying first class - he said, "you're an Olympian! How are you not in first class?!" I laughed, as I had never flown first class before, but Kris assured me he knew someone at Delta who could help.
Two hours later, boarding started and a Delta employee walked up and handed me a first class ticket. I was in shock! These employees cared so much, and worked incredibly hard to get me into first class. It made a world of difference. Being able to lay completely flat is what athletes need. It allows for comfort, recovery, and maximal performance on race day. This was just one thing I encountered that was above and beyond my expectations for the Games.
When I got to the Olympic Village, I was in total awe of the experience and was just trying hard to drink it all in. One word sums it up: peace. Every country was in one area, living in peace. It’s a safe house. I felt comfortable and at ease in the Olympic Village. We were in our own little bubble and it was amazing. It didn’t matter your sport, ethnicity, country. You may think there would be competitiveness, but there wasn’t. Everyone was friendly, happy, and genuinely interested in you as a person. It’s something I’ve never experienced before, and something I hope the world can learn from.
The Opening Ceremonies were a blast. I thought I was the only “normal person” athlete [up until the past several months, Gwen had maintained her full-time job as an accountant at Ernst & Young] until I met everyone in the Olympic Village. As it turns out, everyone is down to earth, humble, and kind. I saw the basketball players being harassed by the photographers so much, and I started to realize how small the pond is that I swim in. I may be a big fish in my little pond, but my pond is small compared to some other sports. I hope someday triathlon is just as high-profile as other sports.
Walking into the Olympic Stadium with the rest of Team USA is something I will never forget. We were unified, we were one team, and we had one goal. There is so much to learn from these athletes, and I feel fortunate to have met them.
A First-Class Support Network
My mom, dad, sister, boyfriend (Patrick Lemieux), and coach (Cindi Bannink) were all there before the race; Pat was even there for the week leading up to the race. It was a huge blessing to have him and Cindi in London - they kept me calm throughout the excitement (and sometimes stress) of the Olympics. I also had tons of friends who joined the race: Maggie Lach, Kate Fahje, Hannah McDougal, Sara McKinley, Sarah Hurely, Sarah Burd, Kelly Fillnow, Dave Anderson, and more. An amazing support network!
USA Triathlon also made sure we had everything we needed: Dr. Alex Keith the chiropractor, Kim Kirkland the massage therapist, Joe Santos the bike mechanic, Jono Hall the team leader, and Andy Schmitz the high performance director. These are the people who make it possible for us to succeed - they help keep our bodies ready and minds at ease. Andy Schmitz organized the trip; he had everything we could ever need in his back pocket – I’m still trying to figure out how he does it! For example, I requested an open water swim, and the next day we drove to a lake in Guildford that had buoys and multiple people swimming on the man-made open water course; I’d request almond or peanut butter (which I couldn’t find in the stores), and it’d magically appear the next day; I’d ask for directions and would instantly be given turn by turn instructions with landmarks I’d know…Andy knows all!
Leading up to the race I ran through a wide gamut of emotions: calm, nervous, confident - but most importantly, I felt ready. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, and this was only possible because of the loved ones I had surrounding me.
Race morning was like any other race day. I woke up and went through my routine of eating, putting on my numbers, and warming up. We were called out to the pontoon and everything was like a normal WTS event - well, all except for the crowd which was something I’ve never experienced before, it was amazing!
The gun went off and I swam as fast as I could. I wasn’t happy with my position and got caught around the buoys, but was able to move up on the straights. Coming out of the water, I was in shock when I saw who I was heading into T1 with. I knew I was going to have to go for it on my bike.
I got on my bike and started hammering. Less than two laps later, I was in a strong chase group and we were closing the gap. Then, I sensed something was wrong - I realized I had a flat tire and had to stop at the pit.
I had never had a mechanical problem during a race before and was so shaky and nervous, even a bit frantic by the time I got to the pit. The volunteers just kind of looked at me and I had to think quickly. I grabbed what I needed, fixed my flat, made sure my bike was working and after what seemed like minutes, I was back on the course.
I saw a small group in front of me and hammered to latch on. Half a lap later, I had bridged up and started trying to close the gap on the leaders. The rest of the bike I tried my best and did what I could given the situation. I started the run and was determined to run hard and never stop competing. It wasn’t the best run ever, but I am satisfied with my effort.
The race didn’t go as I hoped, obviously. But, since then I’ve received emails, tweets, blog posts, calls…and everyone was either congratulating me or motivating me to continue by saying I had a tough break.
To be honest, I didn’t have my best day, and the flat was unfortunate. But that’s all part of the territory - you can work hard, but some things are simply out of your control. Nonetheless, I was determined to race hard to the end. Being in the Olympics is an honor and something I will never forget.
Inspiring a Generation
I finished my race and had one thought: I must qualify for Rio. I am willing to do whatever it takes.
The theme of London 2012: inspire a generation. Who knew I could inspire my own generation, as well as myself? I feel blessed to be an Olympian. It is an incredible honor to represent my country. It has been something I’ve worked for every day of my life. I’ve told myself being a professional athlete is an ‘easy’ life and the best life I could ask for, but to be honest, it’s not easy. My job never stops—and my job never sleeps. There is no clocking in or leaving work. Every second of every day affects my job. And even sleeping is part of my job. I have to make sure I eat, train, recover, and learn. Every moment must have a purpose. It’s not an easy life, but it’s a life I love and it’s a life I don’t want to end. I’ve inspired myself to continue for at least another four years. A lot can happen in four years, but through it all I’ll have one main, long-term goal; here is to Rio 2016!
I’m fortunate to have sponsors, friends, family, and fans supporting my journey. It’s often hard in non-Olympic years, but I’m lucky because I have support; there is no way I can achieve my goals without the support of others. I am thankful for not only the support, but also the experience of representing the USA as an Olympian, and am looking forward to the next four years.
For more about Gwen, check out her TrainingPeaks profile page featuring some actual race files.